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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshas Vayeira 5771 - The Other Guy
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Stam Torah for Parshas Vayera is lovingly dedicated in memory of My Savta, Mrs. Minnie Staum, Shprintza bas Avrohom Yitzchok a’h, whose yahrteit is this Monday, 17 Cheshvan.




Rabbi Yitzchok Zilberstein shlit”a[1] relates the following story:

A man was driving in Eretz Yisroel along a quiet road late one night through an area dubbed a ‘danger zone’ because of recent gunshots that were fired at drivers in the area. Suddenly he noticed a car pulling up hastily behind him, flashing its lights and signaling that it wanted to pass him. The first driver became fearful, because a day earlier a similar incident had ended up in a vicious shooting attack.

In order to prevent the second car from overtaking him, the first driver began driving in a zigzag, weaving from one side of the road to the other. He continued driving that way until he arrived home.

When he pulled up in front of his home and stopped his car the other driver stopped behind him and also emerged from his car. The first driver was happy to see that the other driver was a Jew and he breathed a sigh of relief. But his relief was short lived. The second driver was livid by the fact that the other driver did not allow him to pass him and he began to beat the first driver without compunction. He kept punching him mercilessly until the first driver was bleeding copiously, and his nose was broken. The first driver tried to explain himself but the other man was so infuriated that he wouldn’t listen. He continued reigning blows on the hapless driver as neighbors and passerby gathered around and demanded that he stop.

When the debacle finally ended the first driver went into his home beaten and bloodied. Sometime later he called Rabbi Zilberstein to ask him whether he should file a complaint with the police against his assailant. The Rabbi replied that he should wait until the next morning and they would decide then.

The next morning the man failed to call Rabbi Zilberstein so the Rabbi decided to call him. He told Rabbi Zilberstien that he had not called because he decided that he would not file the complaint. He explained that after he hung up the phone the previous night he realized that he would probably have to go to the hospital and hire a private doctor, which would cost him thousands of shekel. But he realized that his assailant has a prestigious job in a prominent firm, and earns a good living. If such a report was filed with the police it would inevitably besmirch his reputation badly. He would not be able to deny his actions because there were numerous witnesses and he may even be fired from his job losing his source of income.

He continued, “So instead of filing the complaint I invited him to my house for Shabbos. I am confident that when he sees the beauty of a Shabbos table in a Torah-observant home he will reconsider his path of life. Perhaps he will even decide to learn more about Torah and mitzvos. That will be my greatest reward. Perhaps at some future point I will be able to take him to Bais Din (Jewish Court) and demand some remuneration. But I will not file a compliant against him in secular court or engage him in a legal battle which may cause him untold damage.”

Despite the fact that he was a hundred years old and had just undergone a painful procedure that left him in pain, and despite the fact that it was an unusually brutally hot day, Avrohom Avinu sat at the entrance of his tent, waiting and pining to demonstrate kindness to others and to teach them about G-d. When he finally noticed three ‘Bedouins’ traveling in the distance he jumped up with alacrity and implored them to join him. Then, as they sat comfortably in the shade, he prepared a regal meal for them.

Rashi, quoting the gemara[2], notes that Avrohom slaughtered three calves in order to serve each guest his own tongue with mustard, truly a royal delicacy.

Rabbi Avrohom Pam zt’l[3] noted that a person as righteous and saintly as Avrohom was surely above indulgence in such delicacies. Yet in regards to his guests he did not withhold anything and served them as he would aristocracy.

Rabbi Pam derives from Avrohom’s behavior an integral lesson: Although a person must always be striving for spiritual greatness, including overcoming his own desires and inclinations, that is only in regards to himself. When it comes to others however, one must do all in his power to make others as comfortable and contented as he is able. A Torah Jew strives to live his life with a focus on eternity, often forfeiting material comforts in that quest. But he must bear in mind that others may not be on his spiritual level.

This idea is vital in regards to education as well. At times parents forget what it’s like to be a child and may make demands on their children that are unreasonable. Surely a parent has a responsibility to admonish his child, but it must be based on the child’s capabilities and capacities.

[A respected ba’al teshuva told me that he struggles with this idea constantly. As he was not raised in a Torah environment he does not know what it’s like to be ‘normal religious kid’. He became Torah observant when he was a mature adult and so at times it is hard for him to fathom how his child can act so childishly. He is wise enough to know that he must seek the counsel of others to know what is acceptable and what is not.]

After Avrohom rescued Lot and defeated the massive combined armies of the four kings, the king of Sodom approached him about the spoils of the war[4]. The King of Sodom offered Avrohom all of the spoils if only he would grant him the freed captives. Avrohom emphatically refused the offer, “If so much as a thread to a shoe-strap; nor shall I take anything of yours, so you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom rich’.” The gemara[5] explains that in the merit of his refusal to accept even a thread or shoe strap Avorhom’s children merited the mitzvos of tzitzis (for the thread) and tefillin (for the strap).

Rashi explains that Avorhom’s actions were particularly meritorious because he did not want to benefit from stolen property[6].

The truth is that Avrohom was legally entitled to the spoils. The King of Sodom however, clearly did not see it that way. The mere fact that he approached Avrohom with terms for a bargain demonstrates that he felt he had claims and rights. In fact, by offering Avrohom the spoils he felt like he was making a magnanimous gesture. The greatness of Avrohom was that he dealt with the King of Sodom based on his perception. Despite the fact that according to the letter of the law Avrohom was completely justified to take (at least) the spoils of the war - because in the mind of the wicked Sodomite King he would have been a thief - Avrohom decided to forego every penny. Avrohom understood that as the champion of faith and kindness he represented G-d, as it were. Therefore he had to concern himself with the perception - even faulty perceptions - of others.

The gemara[7] states that the mitzvah of tefillin instills awe in all who see them. Truthfully, it is not the tefillin themselves that generate that awe but rather what they represent – the Supreme Being. It is analogous to the badge of a policeman – it is not the badge that people fear, but the institution it represents and the authority that institution wields. Similarly, when a Jew wears tzitzis it is akin to a slave who wears the insignia of his master upon his garment[8].

Because Avrohom demonstrated that he was willing to deal with others based on their perception of reality, he was rewarded with mitzvos which help engender within us a cognizance of true reality. It is one’s ego that impedes his ability to see things from another’s point of view. Avrohom displayed a complete lack of egocentricity, which is a core trait necessary for one to accept upon himself the Yoke of Heaven.

We often try to compel others to live within our reality. A truly great person is able to reach beyond himself and see things from the viewpoints and perceptions of others.

One of the legacies of Avrohom is the ability to see beyond ourselves, to see the world as other’s see it and to understand their reality.

“He stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.”

“So you shall not say, ‘It is I who made Avrom rich’”

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[1] Aleinu L’shabayach, Bereishis 6:10

[2] Bava Metzia 86b

[3] “A Vort from Rav Pam”, Rabbi Sholom Smith

[4] The following idea was related by Rabbi Yochanan Zweig

[5] Chullin 89a

[6] Maharsha questions the assumption that it was stolen property, because halachically the spoils of the war belonged to Avrohom.

[7] Chullin 89a

[8] See Tosafos Menachos 43b

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